A vast array of warships, numbering in the thousands, slowly floated across the sky. Each one was wrapped in shells of white light that made them look like flying eggs neatly rolling across the heavens.
Looking out of the windows one could see a boundless starry night, specks of silver on a black velvet backdrop. A pair of brightly shining eyes stared from within the dark room.
Selene was silent as a shadow. What was Cloudhawk doing now, she wondered? The final barriers between them had collapsed the last time they’d been together, and from that point on she knew their lives were inexorably tied.
But Selene also understood that there was an historic war destined to arise between them… one she wasn’t sure she would get through in one piece. Ever since she agreed to accept the Temple’s inheritance she’d felt her emotions dulling. Cold, ruthless thoughts were all that occupied her mind most days.
Ramiel had told her that power came at a price. Did he mean sacrificing the emotions that made her… her?
Fear slithered in the depths of her heart, a rare sensation for her to experience. But this gradually erosion was a danger she couldn’t face with her sword. As she focused on it an intense pain erupted from inside her like a volcano.
In an instant, it spread through her entire being!
The pain was too great for her will to suppress. It felt as though someone had suddenly and unexpectedly driven their fist into her stomach, forcing her to curl into a ball. Sweat poured off her beautiful, stricken face. She writhed on the ground in agony.
Pain. Pain! Pain! Her mind reeled from it, like something was trying to drill its way out. Selene opened her eyes and they blazed with erratic golden light. The power pouring from her filled the room as images appeared before her eyes.
And another one!
It was a mental explosion. Selene didn’t know which god’s power was flowing through her, but she felt it was special. Each time it surged like this she was granted visions. Chaotic, fractured visions, only faintly understood.
She saw countless warships engaged in battle. One of them, which bore the Temple’s forces, detonated in a nauseating display of carnage. All the Templars and clerics were blown to pieces. Even she was counted among the staggering death toll.
It was a vision of the future. A glimpse at her own death!
Somehow sensing danger in her future, the god’s power within her stirred. It granted her knowledge, a means of protecting herself from the gruesome fate. As she wasn’t strong enough yet, these visions were brief and showed things in the near future only. If nothing changed, she was going to be killed very soon.
But… why? Selene clenched her fists and tried to fight through the pain so she could see more.
A sea of fire, frozen like a photo. Everywhere she looked the all-consuming flame stretched toward the horizon. Among the numerous obliterated vessels emerged a single Temple ship upon which two figures warred.
One wore simple gray robes, elegant and calm. The other wore priestly garb of white, holy and pure.
Arcturus and… Ramiel?
Through her wide eyes Selene saw Arcturus wielding Ruin. It was buried in Ramiel’s chest, one end jutting out from the elderly man’s spine. The picture flickered, and Ramiel turned to ash. On his face she saw that even in death, the High Priest could not imagine Arcturus would do such a thing.
Explosions! The image shattered like a broken mirror.
Selene stared up at the dark ceiling, panting for breath. Her hair was wet from sweat and she teetered on the edge of unconsciousness. The weariness she felt went bone deep.
Horrifying! She had to do something!
The vision she saw was of the Temple’s destruction. Everyone – herself and Ramiel included – were Arcturus’ true targets. The calm of the world outside hid the ghastly purge soon to come. In his darkest nightmares Ramiel would not expect Arcturus to assault him, surrounded by tens of thousands of soldiers. Whatever their conflicts Ramiel was High Priest of the Temple! Even a man of such high esteem among the people couldn’t brazenly assassinate a religious leader. It would be suicide!
And precisely because it was so unthinkable, no one was protecting themselves.
Ramiel’s aims to unseat Arcturus were likely discovered by the Governor long ago. The Master Demonhunter silently made his plots and arranged for the High Priest to meet his end out here. Judging by her previous visions, Selene feared it could come to pass in as soon as a couple hours.
There was no time.
No. She had to leave, she had to warn the High Priest. Arcturus couldn’t be allowed to prevail! Only the Temple could stand in the Governor’s way. If it fell, Arcturus would be unstoppable!
The ship was chock full of the highest grade warriors. Likely they’d been left here to deal with her when the fight started. Her visions had warned her of the encroaching doom, but she couldn’t just rush to action. As her mind raced she walked over to the porthole and produced a small flute. She blew into it and then stared out the window.
Five minutes passed.
Silent shadows slipped from cracks in the ships’ hulls. Black figures with their faces covered, led by the leader of the Court of Shadows, Janus. Atlas was also with them. The rest of the figures were agents of the Court, trusted veterans who were among the best assassins Skycloud had produced.
Janus greeted Selene with a question. “While arriving I saw many Cloude family elite making their way among the ships. What is going on?”
She responded. “Arcturus is no longer staying passive. He’s preparing to attack, and the people on this boat have been sent here to kill me. But that isn’t important, you need to go to Ramiel immediately and tell him all Temple faithful are in danger.”
Janus turned to Atlas and looked wordlessly at him. The Court’s second in command vanished without a sound. If they got this information to Ramiel in time, perhaps they could prepare for the assassination attempt. Between the High Priest’s own power and that of his Oracles, they could at least mount some measure of resistance. He wouldn’t have achieved his post without merit, and indeed Ramiel commanded power akin to a Master Demonhunter. Perhaps even stronger.
After a few moments, Atlas returned with dark news. “Arcturus has already taken control of the Temple ships. Ramiel is already meeting with Arcturus and there were too many around for me to convey the message.”
What? How?! Was it already too late?
Selene’s face darkened. “Then we’ll cut our way to him. If there’s a disturbance the High Priest will be on his guard. He must be alerted!”
Open conflict with the Governor was the only option, and a far better one than allowing the Temple’s leadership to be murdered. With the Court’s help, fighting her way free of this ship shouldn’t be too difficult. Foiling Arcturus’ plot would be much more difficult. But they had no alternative.
Selene drew Sublime Transcendence and hacked it through the air. The door to her room blasted outward in a vicious explosion. On the other side, Cloude agents were caught by surprise and cleaved in half by the sword’s power. Her violent display immediately caused a commotion.
“What is happening?!”
“Who is attacking the ship!”
Right away ships in the area went on alert and slowed to a crawl. Selene led the Court assassins through the ship’s interior, cutting a bloody swath toward the deck. Soldiers and demonhunters sent to cut her down were instead ambushed and slain. But before Selene could continue her desperate fight toward the High Priest, she and Janus bore witness to an unthinkable scene.
Carving an angry path through the air was a salvo of missiles, trailing flames, aimed right for the Elysian armada.
Skycloud’s ships were mighty in their defense, but even still a number of vessels were damaged. The Elysian army was instantly on full alert.
“Attack! We’re being attacked!”
“Wastelanders off the port side!”
“All hands, prepare for battle!”
A massive force of wasteland ships had managed to come right up to their flank. Thousands of them were unloading their heavy artillery and missiles at the Elysians. Without question this was a major part of the enemy’s forces. They spread out, an aggressive posture that showed they were not here to show mercy.
“This isn’t the Green Alliance!”
Selene had known that right away. On the one hand, the Green Alliance didn’t have the force to shake Skycloud’s army like this. What’s more, their purpose was to unite the wastelands not eliminate Skycloud. So if it wasn’t the Green Alliance there was only one other possibility, and that was the Conclave. Only their army was large enough to be a threat. And the one leading them from the shadows was none other than Arcturus Cloude.
How could the Governor have his own men fight each other?! Because he had one overriding priority – destroy the Temple!
Unless she was mistaken, the minute Conclave missiles struck, Arcturus made his move. She feared it was already too late to save the High Priest.
Just as the grim thought crossed her mind a ripping explosion sounded. A fireball rose from the center of the Elysian armada as one of the Temple’s ships detonated.
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